A Brief History of the Dystopian Novel

Lists are hard to do well. There’s always too many entries, too much to say, and too short a space. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to do a survey of some of the notable dystopian stories, and following the news of Edward Snowden’s leak of classified NSA program information, it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the notable works where government overreaches. It’s fitting, as 1984 has enjoyed considerable success in the last couple of weeks.

This list was originally twice as long: I had to cut down a number of great reads to make this fit.

Go read A Brief History of the Dystopian Novel on Kirkus Reviews.

Here’s the sources that I used:

Brave New Worlds, edited by John Joseph Adams: in addition to being an entry in and of itself, there’s a fantastic reading list and great introduction that helps put things into perspective.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley: I have the Harper Perennial Classics edition of this book, which has some fantastic end notes that shed some light on the genesis of the novel.

Red Planets, by Mark Bould and China Mieville: This was an interesting, helpful read on socialism and science fiction. The pair seem to intersect quite a bit in the early days.

Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Frank Magill, Vols 1-5: This was a really helpful series to look into, because of the summaries and analysis of most of the books on the list (some of the most recent novels came after it was published.) These not only helped to brush me up on the books, but help me figure out what they were arguing and how they fit in with one another.

The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts: This is a usual source of knowledge, and it was particularly helpful with some interesting information on a bunch of the books featured.

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells: This is one of the early classics of SF, and the Penguin Classics edition has a good introduction and some biographical notes.

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin: I read this book earlier this year, and really enjoyed it. There’s some great notes in the Penguin Classics edition that provide a lot of background information on Zamyatin’s life and his writings.

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2 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Dystopian Novel

  1. I enjoyed your essay about my dear friend Ray Bradbury very much. However, your date regarding the House (of Representatives) Un-American Activities Committee is slightly incorrect. It actually began its investigations of so-called “un-Americans” in 1947, not the early 1950s. The Senate, under the notorious Joseph McCarthy, began its version of the same sort of “witch hunt” in the early 1950s. Ray and I knew several of the writers, directors and producers who were “blacklisted” by one of the committees. To their last days, they were angry and unrepentant.

  2. I neglected to mention in my previous comment that one of my interviews with Ray Bradbury, “Ray Bradbury on Hitchcock, Huston and Other Magic of the Screen,” appears in Steven Aggelis’ book, “Conversations with Ray Bradbury.” My interview was originally published in the early 1970s, a year or two after Ray and I first met.

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